It’s a bit rich that Randerson J, who has in place a suppression order prohibiting us all from learning the names and details of two men on trial for theft of the Waiouru Museum medals, will now decide whether John Campbell and his TV 3 colleaugues can be forced to disclose their sources.
Judges who think the principle of open justice means open only to the insiders will now perhaps tell another profession that secrecy is not permitted to them, even if it means less likelihood of uncovering dirty deeds in the future.
I do not know the reasons for the court secrecy in this case. The courts offer good-sounding reasons for suppression. But if it is because a suspected wrongdoer or his family might suffer odium by being identified even if acquitted, they are depriving us all of two essential elements that underpin our willingness to live by the rules, and to trust in external justice.
First – the right to make up our own minds how we regard and treat others, whether or not their wrong-doing is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Not guilty only means not proven. It does not mean the accused did not do it. The law admits as much by allowing a civil trial for damages on the balance-of-probabilities standard. There should be a high threshhold before the State can exercise its coercive power. But civil non-coercive society is possible only when reputation matters. Reputation is founded on the infinite range of information that a person generates by their conduct, most of which would never be relevant to a court of law, nor admissable.
Secondly, suppression diminishes trust in the integrity of justice. "Leave it to us – we know best" might have worked when our crime rates were very low. It appeared that the system did know best. But when the system is patently failing, and soft-in-the-head judges are seen to do silly things repeatedly (for example the serial excusing of Kuariki’s breaches of parole) the need for open justice becomes more acute, if only to reassure us that the rest of the process is not as stupid.